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Small Screens Lead to Small Worlds Where Most of Us are Left Out

In On a Small Screen, Just the Salient Stuff they make an interesting observation that web browsing on an iPhone can actually be superior to its big screen cousins:

A quick trip to Web sites like Facebook, Twitter, Zillow or Powerset, all of which have been redesigned to take advantage of the iPhone, makes it clear that bigger is not necessarily better when it comes to exploring cyberspace. By stripping down the Web site interface to the most basic functions, site designers can focus the user�s attention and offer relevant information without distractions.

This sounds great at first. Dump clutter. Get me just what you think I need. Be ruthless. Edit the world for me. The problem is you know what will show up fist are the most popular and profitable items. So in aggregate we end up seeing much less of the world that we would on a big screen . It's the small world phenomena where new nodes are more likely to attach themselves to existing popular node and we'll see that same power law type friend and follower figures we see on Twitter, Facebook, and FriendFeed. A few people have many 1000s of followers. Most have close to none. And the world is far smaller than it would have otherwise been because it is being viewed thrugh a small screen. To control information flows you'll just need to control the first small screen full of information because like for Google search results, few people venture past the first page.

So small iPhone screens mean the rest of us are banished even further out in the long tail galapagos.

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Gordon Ramsay On Software

Gordon Ramsay is a world renowned chef with a surprising amount to say on software development. Well, he says it about cooking and running a restaurant, but it applies to software development too.

You may have seen Gordon Ramsay on one of his TV shows: Hell's Kitchen or Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares.

Hell's Kitchen is a competition between chefs trying to win a dream job: head chef of their own high-end restaurant. On this show Ramsay is judge, jury, and executioner. And he chops off more than a few heads. Kitchen Nightmares is a show where Ramsay is called in by restaurant owners to help turn around their failing restaurants. On this show Ramsay is there to help.

If you just watch Hell's Kitchen you will likely conclude Ramsay is one of the devil's own helpers ("ram" is the symbol of the devil and "say" means he speaks for the devil: Ramsay). Ramsay screams, yells, cusses, belittles, and throws tantrums even a 7 year old could learn from. Then he does it all over gain just for spite. In Hell's Kitchen there's no evidence at all of why Ramsay is such a respected chef. He is just a nasty man.

Now if you watch Kitchen Nightmares you will see a slightly different side of Ramsay, he still yells and cusses a lot, but you will also see something else: this guy seriously knows what he is doing. The depth of his knowledge in all phases of the restaurant business is immediately apparent as he methodically works to fix what's broken.

Ramsay knows how to run a profitable restaurant. That's one of his key skills. Anyone can lose money running a restaurant, the secret is knowing how to make money running a restaurant. Apparently if, you run it right, a restaurant can make a lot of money. It can also lose a lot of money.

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Copernicus is My Favorite Pattern

In interviews it's common to ask "What's your favorite and least favorite pattern?" My usual answer for favorite pattern is "keep separate things separate." It's a bit meta which allows me to talk about a few design principles that are dear to me. My least favorite pattern is the wretched visitor pattern because it binds together different parts of an application that have no business even knowing about each other. It creates a BLOB.

After having read "It Started with Copernicus" by Howard Margolis I am going to have a new favorite pattern: the Copernicus Pattern. I will always hate the visitor pattern, so my answer to that question is not likely to change :-)

The premise of this book is that Copernicus' discovery of the heliocentric model of the solar system started a fire storm of scientific invention, not because of the discovery itself, but because it spread the idea that we puny humans could think and make big discoveries about the universe using nothing but our tiny brains. Copernicus gave people permission to tackle big challenges and the confidence that they could expect to meet them.

As evidence Margolis lists the major scientific discoveries made before 1600 and the major scientific discoveries made after 1600. Copernicus published his "discovery" that the Earth revolves around the Sun in 1543. In the list of pre-1600 major discoveries there is: nothing. Zip. Nada. After 1600 the pace of scientific discovery blossoms, we discover: the distinction between electricity and magnetism; law of free fall; Galilean inertia; Earth is a magnet; theory of lenses; laws of planetary motion; various discoveries from the telescope, like sunspots; laws of hydrostatic pressure; and synchronicity of the pendulum. All these discoveries were made by Stevin, Gilbert, Kepler, and Galileo all followers of Copernicus.

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Why Some Photographs Look Alive and Others Look Dead

Artists have long worked at portraying a sense of dynamism in static
sculptures and two dimensional paintings. To this end Greeks developed
a technique called symmetria - dynamic counterbalance between the
relaxed and tensed body parts and between the directions in which the
parts move.

Look at the Egyptian sculpture and notice how static it feels. The purpose behind Egyptian art was political and religious. It was used to solidify the role of the Pharaoh as the rightful leader, the only legitimate contact between the sacred and profane worlds. So their art is impressive and enduring, but there's no sense of movement.

Now look at the Spear-Bearer by Polyclitus. It has a life to it that you don't see in Egyptian art. Look closely and you can start to see how this animated feeling is accomplished. Look at how the left knee is bent and the right knee is straight. The left foot is back and turned out. The right foot is forward and turned the other way. The hips are gently shifted the right and the torso is slightly twisted. The right arm is straight and the left arm is up and bent. The spear angles and forms a diagonal with the right hand. The two knees form an opposite diagonal. The head is turned slightly to the right and is looking off passed us. The muscles are clearly defined leading the viewer to imagine that this man has fought and is ready for action.

All these little "tricks" don't consciously surface, but the overall impression is one of liveness and rhythm. I've wondered how this technique developed. It's so clever, so subtle, and works so well. Where did it come from?

Now take a look at the picture of two lionesses playing in the wild. It may look like the lionesses are fighting, but they are really just having a grand old time. When I saw this picture (see Stuart Brown: Why Play is Vital) for the first time symmetria alarm bells immediately went rang a lang a ding dang in my head.

Compare Lionesses Playing with the Spear Bearer. Amazing similarities. Notice how alive this frozen two-dimensional snapshot of time feels. I've taken a lot of pictures of things in action and they usually feel lifeless and dead, so I know the feeling of liveness just doesn't come from the fact that they are moving. I think it feels so alive for reasons of symmetria. Notice the twist in the bodies, diagonals of the paws, parallel of the tails, diagonal of the head, twist in the heads, the correspondence between the feet, and the muscled arcs of the trunks in flight.

Taken together all these effects make the picture feel vibrantly and gloriously alive. Maybe an ancient Greek artist witnessed a similar scene thousands of years ago and thought hey, we can do that in sculpture!

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My First Zeplin Trip!

For a reason without reason I've always dreamed of riding in a zeppelin. No, not the Led variety. I'm not a groupy. I finally got my chance thanks to Airship Adventures. Here are a few pictures from the trip:

Despite my lack of photography skills it was a picture perfect day. No wind and a blue sunny sky. Zeppelins are creatures of the wind. Too much wind and they can't fly. A couple on our trip were reschedulees from a wind day. We took the trip out of Moffet field. We originally signed up for the Sonoma trip but they had some issues with the landing field so we rescheduled. There's also an Oakland trip the goes out to the bay. I'm thinking I'll eventually hit them all. They also mentioned they eventually plan on a barnstorming type trip which will move along the coast. That would be a blast. Our trip went over 101 to San Mateo and back again. Not the fall colors of wine country but it was still gorgeous.

If you are expecting something the size of the Hindenburg you'll be disappointed. These beasts are about 1/3rd the size and carry 12 passengers instead of 100. On the inside aren't the luxurious appointments of a gilded age, but functional seating meant for tourists on a short excursion. It's not claustrophobic on the inside (and I'm claustrophobic). All around you are windows so you can see from any angle. A few windows open so you can take pictures without window glare. The whole back end is a window with a window seat so you can look, sit, and contemplate. More than enough room and comfort for our 1 hour tour. And there is a tiny teeny bathroom if the need should arise (complementary picture included).

Saying zeppelins are creatures of the wind gets directly to heart of what makes zeppelin riding different than a plane or helicopter ride. Zeppelins do not stay still. They are always moving. This makes getting on and off a zeppelin more of an adventure than expected. To get on the zeppelin is moving towards you and you have to scurry up the entry stairs on the fly. Same with getting off. It's quite a lot of fun and adds a bit of spice. The support people have all this worked out so you don't have to worry about anything going wrong. It's no problem.

Seeing the world from a 1000 feet is a completely different experience. We are either high up in the air or on the ground. Trawling slowly close to the ground but still high above allows you to see patterns you may have never seen before. Some of my favorite pictures are of the sinuous river ways that lign the bay in contrast to the compulsively square shapes humans inflict everywhere. We humans love our boxes, right angles, and straight lines. Where is Antonio Gaudi when you need him? I Iike the contrast here:

Someone went wild and made a circular shape:
How crazy is that? It stood out amongst the Roman inspired order of everything around it.

Another noticeable pattern is you can tell where people have money. It doesn't take a genius to know when you've hit Atherton:

Though most houses are boring, company campuses have a little creativity:

And there were a lot of buildings where I wonder what is that?

There's not much green space for people to play in. We cram every spare inch with a house or something. It's hard to exercise when everything is covered in pavement. It would be nice to plan that out a little better so malls weren't the only place to get away.

I also really had no idea how much wet lands we had:

Spectacular to look at from above. Endless gorgeous patterns. And that's what I'll take away from this wonderful trip.

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Grandma's Tips on Surviving Depression 2.0

My 93 year old Grandma thinks things are looking pretty bad these days, which is saying a lot for a women who survived the Great Depression. I asked her how they made it through those tough times. Her advice sounds a lot like what would work today.

The American People Have to Learn to Cut Down

Grandma was raised on a farm in North Dakota and she said they simply didn't have any money. Something she thinks people these days probably can't understand at all because people still seem to have money now. They were lucky even to buy food. Until Roosevelt there was absolutely no government help at all. Nothing. People were on their own.

  1. People didn't have luxuries.
  2. If they could afford shows they were worn  for a couple of years and were fixed, not thrown away.
  3. Clothes were handed down. New clothes were rare and they usually made clothes themselves.
  4. If families even had a car there was just one car per family at most.
  5. Kids walked to school. She walked 3 miles to school unless the weather was really bad.

So learn to do with less. When you have less you don't need as big an income to survive and you can ride out anything.

Learn How to Cook

They didn't eat out in those days. Food was prepared and eaten at home. They bought beans and rice in 100 pound sacks.  They made lots of soup, especially using cabbage grown in their garden and beef bones when they had them. To this day she still doesn't like beans because they had so much of them.

Grow Your Own Food

They had a big garden where they grew potatoes, carrots, greens, and tomatoes. Then they would can food so they could eat in the winter.

No Debt

Credit cards didn't exist so they saved up if  they wanted to buy something. She doesn't have any debt to this day. I would think a lot of people from her generation kept those habits all their lives. It's the later generations that reacted to times of plenty by wanting plenty more.

I asked what they did about medical care. She said they didn't go to the doctor or the hospital that often, but when they did they worked out a payment plan. They would pay a little each month or at harvest times. Eventually it did get paid off.

It was definitely a different time. The US in that era was still largely rural, still largely farmers, and the population was tiny compared to now. It's hard to imagine how our urban population could live without money as the entire economy is based on money. But even if the world has changed the things they did back then to survive make a lot of sense now, even if it's not the path to a continual series of double-digit growth projections.

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Which Batman Villain are You?

On the theory that insight can be teased from any random meaningless thing in the world, I think the villains in Batman are useful objects of self reflection. What separates Batman from his arch nemesi are how they dealt with the tragic events in their life. Batman on the loss of his parents eventually chose the harder path, becoming a fighter of evil and protector of lost souls. Batman's villains chose the easier path when faced with tragedy.

In a way each Batman villain symbolizes a different path for running away from fear and pain.  So when we reflect on Batman's villains we are also exploring how we may let situations dictate who we become rather than making our own conscious choice of who we become.

Scarecrow - The Sadist

Operating from a position of trust and power as psychologist, the Scarecrow enjoys seeing people's mind snap. Abuses trust and uses fear to get what they want without concern about the consequences.

The Riddler - The Narcissist

Yearning to be caught, the ever calm and cool Riddler's obsession to be recognized as cleverer than everyone else was so strong he left self-incriminating clues that lead to his eventual fall.

Penguin - The Materialist.

Penguin tries to fill the hole in his soul with money and things. The hole was created by the bullying he endured as a child. Taunted mercilessly by his classmates because of his beak-like nose, bulbous belly, and ever present umbrella (his mom didn't want him catching a cold), the hole grew bigger and bigger. He thought wealth and power could fill the hole, but it never does.

Joker - Chaos

The Joker is an agent of randomness and chaos. In any interaction he could be a harmless clown or a soulless killer, yet we never know what motivates him. Money will not buy him. He can not be bargained with. He will not compromise. In that he is like Batman's evil mirror image, but with a sense of humor.

Catwoman - The Evil Twin


Batman and Catwoman have much in common. The both enjoy the Furry lifestyle and from a conventional perspective have questionable morals, but are basically decent and do good. The difference is Batman has a line he will not cross, and Catwoman does not. Catwoman is a version of Batman without the ridig self imposed control. She is corruptible, not afraid to commit crimes, and loves the thrill for the sake of thrills.  And that's why they can never be together.

Two-Face - The Extremist

Harvey Dent was an abused and schizophrenic child who hid his madness in fanatic devotion to law and order. After an injury deformed his face his madness flipped to a life of crime instead of the law. It was his madness, his unexamined extremism which was his essential character, not good or evil.

Batman's fight is our fight. He constantly struggles to keep Gotham safe from people who simply gave up and gave in. We also constantly fight the Gotham of our mind against letting fear and pain turn us away from our better natures. Batman may be a silly comic book, but there's a lot to learn from Batman too.

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Web 2.0 Won't Die Because it Excites Young Minds

With the recent financial crisis we're continually exhorted grow up and drop this Web 2.0 nonsense. Move into more dignified niche revenue opportunities. Stop wasting everyone's time with this new-age hippie free ad stuff. There's no time for such foolishness. Be serious. It's as if I can hear my Grandpa whispering in my ear. Well, Web 2.0 ain't going anywhere because it excites young minds.
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Google Chrome's Agile Design and Development

With Google Chrome doing something strange for a Google app, exiting beta, BayCHI's December talk by Glen Murphy, Google Chrome's designer and an engineer on its front-end team, becomes a little more topical. Glen gave a very good presentation. Nothing revelatory, but I thought there's a lot to learn from how they organized their development team, especially for those looking for successful agile projects inside big companies.

  • The reason for building Chrome was to create a platform that can run increasingly complex web applications in a browser as well as desktop applications run in an OS. To make this a reality they identified two primary goals: speed and reliability. All included features had to be fast and reliable.
  • Building compelling web applications requires making features feel fast. The user should be able do everything they need to do fast. We'll see how this impacted the OmniBox design.
  • The need for reliability is what made them decide on the isolated tab model. Content is organized around tabs and each tab runs in an isolated environment so the failure of one part won't bring down another. The idea is each tab could be considered a separate application.
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    Is Oil China's New Black Plague?

    The article Oil price shock means China is at risk of blowing up makes clear that if the effects of expensive oil have hit the US hard, they have hit China even harder because the China miracle is in large part built on cheap transportation based on cheap oil. When oil becomes expensive that advantage goes away which could have a devastating impact on China's economy.

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    Are Web Icons a Modern Form of Illiterate Communication for the Dumbest Generation?

    How do you communicate with
    an illiterate population? That's a problem I hadn't thought of before,
    but on a recent trip to Europe I was fascinated to learn how medieval
    towns and merchants solved the problem of how to communicate with a
    population that couldn't read. Their solution was to use elaborate
    symbols that reminded me a lot of the iconography developed for
    websites and other computer devices. I couldn't help putting this
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    Rules For Superior Stories

    Charles Tilly in his book Why? distills down the rules for how Jared Diamond takes complicated ideas in books like Guns, Germ, and Steel and whittles them down to an essential yet still interesting essence:

  • Simplify the space in which your explanation operates.
  • Reduce the number of actions and actors.
  • Minimize references to incremental, indirect, reciprocal, simultaneous feedback effects.
  • Restrict your account--especially of causal mechanisms--to elements having explicit, defensible equivalents within the specialized discipline on why you are drawing.
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    Why Stressed Out-of-Control Americans Won't Carpool

    Gas now looks like it will be expensive until the sun burns dark. SUV and truck sales have flopped while sales of the tiny cars we've always sneered at have pulled a Robert Downey Jr. and have become stars once again. So why don't we American's do the smart and logical thing and carpool? Because we Americans need to feel like we are in control. Without that control we'll stay in our cars all lined up one-by-one in endless traffic jams even if at first it doesn't make rational sense.

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    Web 2.0 Suicide Monitoring Using Twitter and Emotional Presence

    eople on anti-depressant drugs--like Prozac--are supposed to be closely monitored for suicidal thoughts that could indicate the drug is having a "paradoxical result." While many feel better on anti-depressants others drop fast and dark into an even worse suicidal depression. Paradoxical isn't quite the word I would use, but we must keep everything clinical.

    Monitoring allows a doctor to detect if a patient is entering the paradox zone. If so, treatment can be changed and further harm avoided.

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    The Lifecycle of a Typical New Product Announcement

    Look at enough new product announcements and there appears to be pattern. The same sorts of articles are posted on every product. So why not jump ahead of the curve? When a new product comes out see which of the following you want to sign up for:

  • Rumor of X's Imminent Release. Oh Joy!
  • X Has Just Launched! Live blogging now.
  • How X Will Change Everything
  • The Real Reason Behind X
  • X First Impressions
  • Warning: X has Serious Issues (performance, security, privacy, crash, design, licensing, etc)
  • X Who Wins and Who Looses
  • X FAIL
  • Why X Sucks